It may be difficult to look at this album for what it was when it was released. Given the career paths of John Phillips and Scott McKenzie after their time with the Journeymen, or even the personal history of Phillips that was revealed much later, this album may seem like a bump on a road to much greater success. However, as an artifact of the popularized folk scene, this album reveals the “moves” this kind of group often made in their repertoire. Also, as a popular folk group, the Journeymen were never able to step out of the shadow of other more established groups, especially the Kingston Trio or the Limeliters. And, when they do material in imitation of those groups, they tend to fall flat. On the other hand, when they lean in to the distinctives of their group members, the uniqueness of the group shines through. Phillips’ solid baritone and ear for melody, McKenzie’s soaring tenor, and Dick Weissman the consummate instrumentalist, especially on the banjo.
It really is too bad that they felt they needed to include such silly, pandering tacks on this live album, due to, I assume, audience expectations.
The false moves – “Metamorphosis” is one of those joke songs, this one about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The comedy is beyond juvenile, it makes me wonder who it could have been for. The jokes wouldn’t fly in a kid’s version. “Gypsy Rover” is a sing along, and the band try desperately to spice up the track, interjecting “hups” and “whoops”. But it just comes across as needy; begging the audience to play along.
The good news – Weissman’s playing on “I am a Poor and Ramblin’ Boy” stands up against any contemporary bluegrass player, and the harmonies are tight as can be. The boys are clearly in the popular folk music realm here, but something about harmony arrangements for this track have more character, more movement.
“Dark as a Dungeon” is far and away my favorite track on the album. Again, the vocal arrangements are more than simple harmonies; they have a haunting lushness. This song also takes its time. This band trusts the audience, it treats them like adults. Many other groups would have sped the tempo up a few clicks for fear of dragging the concert down, but this song shows the band trusting themselves and their approach to the material.
“I Never Will Marry” is the last one I’ll mention here. McKenzie is in fine form.
Overall, unfortunately, the lows probably outweigh the highs on this album. It’s sad too, because when this band leans in on what they do right, they get it exactly right. If only they didn’t spend so much time sounding like someone else.
The Journeymen: John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Dick Weissman
Arranged by : John Phillips
Recorded at The Padded Cell, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Produced by Andy Wiswell